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Road safety fears raised over relaxation of lorry driver resting time rules

“I am not aware of any scientific evidence that supports this move” a Sinn Fin spokesperson said.

Image: Sasko Lazarov

THE DEPARTMENT OF Transport should publish “scientific evidence” that proves relaxing the driving and resting time rules for heavy goods vehicle drivers won’t endanger other road users, a Sinn Féin spokesperson has said.

Earlier this week, the department and the Road Safety Authority (RSA) announced a temporary derogation of the European Union rules in a bid to relieve Covid-related staffing pressures in the road haulage sector.

Under the derogation, driving times will be relaxed with the fortnightly driving limit being increased from 90 hours to 112 hours.

Due to this, all drivers will be entitled to drive for a maximum of 56 hours per week until the derogation expires on 30 January. Daily working time remains unchanged. 

The number of reduced daily rest periods that drivers can take between any two weekly rest periods is being increased from three to five. According to the RSA, this is to provide extra flexibility to drivers in case they encounter delays during their journeys.

But Louise O’Reilly, Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on Workers’ Rights, Enterprise, Trade, and Employment, said the rules exist for reasons of health and safety. 

“So if [Minister for State at the Department of Transport Hildegarde Naughton] has information that that health and safety issue can somehow be overcome, and that it’s not really an issue, she needs to share that,” O’Reilly told The Journal 

“And if she doesn’t, she needs to tell us how she’s put in place extra monitoring to ensure that the roads are kept safe with this measure in place”.

“There should have been a risk assessment done and the results of that should have been published,” she added.

“I am not aware of any scientific evidence that supports this move.”

The Dublin Fingal TD said, “If there is scientific evidence to support this decision, the department needs to publish it immediately.”

The Department of Transport has been approached for comment.

Sleep deprivation

Experts have also expressed qualms about the relaxation of the rules.

Professor Andrew Coogan of Maynooth University, a neuroscientist who has researched sleep and specialises in the body’s circadian rhythms, told The Journal that sleep deprivation can impair drivers to a greater extent than alcohol consumption.  

“These derogations increase the number of hours drivers can drive in any given day, decrease the rest period and increase the number of consecutive days on which drivers can drive, 

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“All of those things we would understand from research to increase the risk of driving accidents.”

He said the RSA said in a statement announcing the derogation that drivers should not drive when they’re tired.

“But that doesn’t work,” he said. “We’re actually really poor judges of how tired we are.”

In a statement, the RSA told The Journal that the derogation reflects past approaches for dealing with driver shortages during the pandemic.

“These relaxation measures maintain a balance between driver welfare, operator flexibility, road safety and minimising disruption to supply chains,” the spokesperson said.

“Any deviation from the driving and resting time rules must be a last resort. Driver safety or other road user’s safety must not be compromised. Drivers should not deviate from the rules if it jeopardises road safety nor should they be expected to drive whilst tired.

They added, “Nothing in the derogation changes the rules relating to weekly working time, which must continue to be adhered to.”

About the author:

Ian Curran & Stephen McDermott

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